Five questions with Magic Giant’s Zambricki Li

Magic Giant w/ Tall Heights and Halfloves

Big Grove Brewery, Iowa City — Tuesday, June 5 at 8:30 p.m.

Magic Giant. Left to right: Zambricki Li, Austin Bisnow and Zang. — press photo

Magic Giant is a Los Angeles-based trio forged on the festival scene (including the 2018 lineup of Coachella) with a distinctly positive alt-pop sound. They’re represented by the label Concord — also the parent label of St. Vincent and Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats — and recorded most their debut album, 2017’s In the Wind, outdoors as they toured the country. Magic Giant released an acoustic version of In the Wind earlier this year.

Little Village spoke with Zambricki Li — who is self-taught on fiddle, viola, banjo, mandolin, cello, harmonica and various other instruments utilized in Magic Giant’s big productions — ahead of their first Iowa City performance on Tuesday, June 5 at Big Grove Brewery. The show starts at 8:30 p.m. and tickets cost $10 in advance, $15 at the door.

How did the band form?

We are right about on our four-year anniversary as a band, which is really exciting.

Austin and I moved to Los Angeles around the same time. He was writing music for other artists [David Guetta, Steve Aoki, Big Time Rush, Paul Oakenfold, etc.] and I was doing some composing and producing, and we met up. We wanted to get into the music festival world. … We played a couple of shows in Los Angeles just for fun and then lost touch for at least six months. Austin got a call from a music festival in D.C. called Sweetlife and they offered us to play their music festival and he just kind of instinctively said yes. He called me up and said, “We’re getting the band back together!” That’s kind of when it became a real thing. After that, we found Zang and that’s how we formed Magic Giant.

When we first met Zang, he was playing bass in a band in Los Angeles. We were so interested in him we didn’t care that he didn’t play the guitar. I was just like “this is a guitar, it has two more strings. Let me show you how to play a couple chords.” Creativity, I think, is even bigger than the instrument that you’re playing. If you have the idea and the will you can figure out the nuts and bolts of how to play the instrument.

Your music has a very positive and uplifting feel. Is that a vibe you’ve made a conscious effort to embody, or was it an accident?

It’s that pure feeling of traveling around with your new best friends, going to festivals and having the time of your life, that was kind of the stage the album was recorded on. I think some of it just kind of sneaked into the music. It wasn’t “let’s make this song sound happy” but the productions were happy productions.

If you read the lyrics to our songs, we like to have songs that have stories and kind of have a message, and when it comes to producing the music we like to have a big sound. Big drums, big beats. Between us we can play a lot of different instruments, so we like to take the palate of sound at our disposal and apply that both to the records and to the show. We’re pretty busy at the show … it’s a very active experience.

When we did the acoustic recording it was bringing it back to the songs, and the stories of the songs. It’s great that now we have both of those things out there so our fans can kind of get to know the songs and the stories on multiple levels.

When I saw you in 2016 at the Larimer Lounge in Denver, I had the distinct impression I was watching a band about to hit it big. What has the last two years been like?

There was a thing that happened two years ago — maybe two and a half years ago at this point — and it didn’t necessarily come from getting some level of success. But there is this feeling that we got as a band where we knew we were doing something that was kind of cool and special, so all we had to do was keep doing what we had started. … For us, ever since we hit that stride creatively where we really believe in what we’re doing, it’s just been a fun adventure. It’s kind of like just camping with your friends and every night you put on a little show. It’s really cool. That’s what touring is.

In the Wind was recorded outdoors in some of the most beautiful places in the country. But of course, listening to the album doesn’t let you see the sights. How do you think being in those places enhanced the recording?

When we were planning for the album we were looking at a map of all the festivals and places we were playing and we were also Googling and researching acoustical anamolies in these places. So when we were deciding where to record, it wasn’t just “lets record there because it’s beautiful” it was “what does this place sound like?” So for instance, outside of Spokane and Seattle there’s this tunnel in the Snoqualmie pass called the John Wayne [Trail]. It’s a [2.25]-mile old train tunnel attached to a national park. We chose this place to record some of the background vocals because a lot of times in the studio people will put on this fake echo, but we just went and found a real echo.

We were in Seattle and we were looking south; our next show was in San Francisco and there’s two routes. Route one you kind of come inland and take the highway system and it takes, like, eight hours. Route two you go to the coast and it’s probably a 14-hour drive, it’s way longer. And then we looked closer and we saw there’s this strip of redwoods called Avenue of the Giants and it’s literally like that moment in Coming to America — it’s like this old movie with Eddie Murphy — when he’s like, “Where should I go to find my queen?” and he looks at the map and it says Queens, New York, so he goes to Queens. That was our moment. We went to bascially this random place on the map called Avenue of Giants, and it’s these redwood trees, each of which is like the size of a house and you can climb inside of them.

We built this mobile recording studio, so what we would do is pull our little bus up to it and run all our microphones and wires from the bus out to the place we were recording. So we went inside this redwood tree which, when they’re building a recording studio, they’re basically trying to make it sound like a redwood tree because it sounds super warm and has all the good qualities of acoustic. So we went in there and it was basically like going into a $10-million studio except it was grown out in nature.

Do you guys have fans that will follow you on the road?

We have. There’s a Facebook page called the Magic Misfits. We don’t run this page or the community, it’s a free-standing thing, but it’s where people can go for if you need a ride to a show or even — let’s say you want to go to the show but you’re by yourself or whatever, you can go to the Magic Misfits Facebook page or the Instagram and then reach out and find other people who are going to the show and meet up with people there. That’s the best thing about the community is it allows people to come be a part of it and there’s no barrier to entry. You can find people to road-trip with or if you need a place to crash, you can reach out through the network and find friends and find a family that way.

When we come to towns, even if we haven’t been there before or are in an indoor venue, it’s like, “Wow, the circus is coming to town.” We definitely bring the festival freedom and energy to the clubs and to the theaters. Sometimes it almost feels like an old punk rock show or something when we play these little clubs because there’s so much energy, it’s like spilling out of the doors of the place. Any time you have happiness and energy spilling out of a room, whether it’s a big festival or a small place, it works.

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